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Take This Job and Shove It!

August 14, 2019

Morgan T. Dilks, Esq.

As a sports fan, and a Ravens fan, I keep an eye on the current events taking place in the NFL.  I pay particular attention to the news from the AFC North and marquee players who currently and recently have played in that division, players like former Pittsburgh Steeler, Antonio Brown.  When the news broke last week that Antonio Brown had stopped communicating with his new team, the Oakland Raiders, after only ten practices, it conjured up memories from the end of the 2018 season where he skipped work in December and was disciplined by his team as a result.

For me, this begged the question: what is an employer to do if one of their employees suddenly stops showing up for work with no explanation given?

This issue can manifest itself in a multitude of ways.  Perhaps you make an offer to a prospective employee, that offer is accepted, and the prospective employee never shows up for their start date.  Maybe you hire an employee and after their initial training shift, they don’t return for their next scheduled day of work.  It’s possible that an employee who has been with your company for a period of time goes out for their lunch break and never comes back.

The Society for Human Resource Management refers to this as “job abandonment,” a term that can be construed to mean the employee has left, has no intention of returning, and has not notified the employer of their intentions.

There is no federal or state law defining the number of days an employee must no-call/no-show before it can be considered job abandonment.  In the absence of any law that speaks directly to this issue, it is vital that employers maintain, and strictly adhere to, clearly defined company policies.  Here are a few steps employers should take to protect their interests:

  1. Develop an Absence/Abandonment Policy. Employee handbooks should contain clear and unambiguous language describing the company’s absence policy, and specifically what constitutes job abandonment from the company’s perspective.  The more specific a company can be, the better off they will be should an issue ever arise.
  2. Try to Find Out What Happened. Not all no-call/no-shows are automatic job abandonment cases.  An employee may experience a few days of absence as a result of an emergency, medical or otherwise.  What may initially seem like job abandonment may actually trigger a company’s medical leave policy, Maryland Sick and Safe Leave Act or a broader Family Medical Leave Act issue.
  3. Follow Your Policy. When an employee’s absence has crossed the clearly-defined threshold in your company’s employee handbook, you should take action.  This can include, but certainly isn’t limited to, sending a termination letter to their address of record which explains the circumstances under which they were terminated, issuing a final paycheck, and sending copies of any relevant forms/benefit information.

Proper handling of job abandonment cases can reduce risk exposure to your company.  Employers can potentially face improper termination claims, as well as increased payroll taxes if unemployment insurance is made available to otherwise non-qualifying former employees who voluntarily abandoned their jobs.

If you believe you may be facing a situation where an employee has abandoned their job and you need advice, or if you would like assistance in strengthening your company’s policies, we’re here to help.

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